Estrid Tenggren was a translator, proofreader and handicrafts teacher. She translated novels, nonfiction, picture books and film manuscripts as well as contributions to anthologies and poetry from many different languages.
Estrid Tenggren was born Hanna Estrid Borrie in 1906. She grew up at Borriegården near Ystad. Her parents were the farmers Carl Borrie and his wife Emma, née Nilsson. She married young, to Knut Tenggren, an agronomist who was the inspector on the Tagel estate in Småland. Estrid Tenggren moved there and worked as a crafts teacher and textile craftswoman during her time in Småland. The couple had three sons, but two died as babies.
Estrid Tenggren continued living on the estate until 1955 when she returned to Skåne without her husband. They were however still married. She settled down in Lund, where she was employed as a proofreader at Håkan Ohlsson’s book printers, while continuing to work as a crafts teacher. Estrid Tenggren was all her life active as a translator as a sideline to her other professional work. Cecilia Schwarz writes in an article in Svenskt översättarlexikon that Estrid Tenggren was deeply interested in music, art and literature, and through her translations she was able to express her love of literature.
She published her first translations at the end of the 1950s, and Rainer Maria Rilke’s ballad ”Die Weise von Liebe und Tod des Cornets Christoph Rilke” is one of them. Her great interest in Italian poetry led to her starting to select and translate Italian poems early in her career; her first poetry anthology Jorden och döden appeared in 1961. The anthology contained among other works poems by Pier Paolo Pasolini and Cesare Pavese. Her second anthology appeared as early as 1964: Italiensk lyrik. Four years later came the third: Elementära tankar. All the anthologies were published by Bo Cavefors bokförlag.
Cecilia Schwarz writes additionally that with Estrid Tenggren’s anthologies, that had a broad selection of contemporary Italian poetry by several great poets who had never before been presented in Sweden, she made her entry into a field of mainly male translators. Cecilia Schwarz speculates around whether it was for this particular reason that several critics were not very positive to her interpretations of the poetry, and she points out that Martha Larsson at Svenska Dagbladet was the only one to express herself in a respectful manner when she wrote that the translations were ”sensitively executed”.
Estrid Tenggren continued her cooperation with Bo Cavefors bokförlag and together with her translator colleague Eivor Olerup she translated several books by the Nigerian author Wole Soyinka from English during the 1970s: The Interpreters in 1975, Season of Anomy in 1976, and The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka in 1977. Wole Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986.
During the 1970s, Estrid Tenggren translated not only English prose but also German poetry, for example Johannes Bobrowski. She also took on Italian works touching upon philosophical issues, like Umberto Eco’s La struttura assente from 1971 on semiotics, and Le città invisibili in 1978, stories about an imaginary landscape by Italo Calvino.
According to Cecilia Schwarz, Estrid Tenggren was often seen as a person who could be described as shy and reserved, but who might also be experienced by those to whom she was close as ”strong, intelligent and keen on discussions”. When she was invited to the Nobel banquet as the translator of Wole Soyinka’s works in 1986, she was sure that she did not want to go and according to Cecilia Schwarz’s article she declined the invitation firmly. In a personal portrait of Estrid Tenggren published in Arbetet on 18 October 1986 with the headline ”Estrid, kvinnan bakom årets Nobelpristagare”, she herself describes how she worked as a translator: ”It’s a matter of getting out of your own skin, without the feeling for language being lost in the process, and humbly waiting for the words to settle down and find their right place.”
In 1972, she was awarded the Sveriges Författarfond’s premium as a reward for literary services.
Estrid Tenggren died in 1997 in Lund. She rests in Borrie Cemetery.